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Special IEEE Forum Honors Viterbi Chip Testing Guru

Former students and colleagues gather to pay tribute to achievements of Hsieh department professor
Eric Mankin
March 19, 2007 — A special IEEE half-day conference event celebrated the work and influence of computer scientist/electrical engineer Melvin A. Breuer.

More than 70 Breuer colleagues, former students and friends gathered in Santa Clara for the invitation-only program that was sponsored by the IEEE, the IEEE Computer Society, the TTTC of the Computer Society, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Syntest, Intel and Mentor Graphs.
Man of the Hour: Mel Breuer stands before the poster announcing the forum in his honor.

Speakers included some of the leading specialists in the field.  John Hayes, Claude E. Shannon Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Michigan; Edward J. McCluskey, Director of the Stanford University Center for Reliable Computing;  Sudhakar M. Reddy, University of Iowa Foundation Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Miron Abramovici, former Distinguished Scientists at AT&T Bell Labs and now Chief Scientist at DAFCA; and Vishwani D. Agrawal, James J. Danaher Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Auburn all presented personal testimonies regarding Breuer's contributions.

The talks discussed the canonical books authored and co-authored by Breuer, including the pathbreaking Design Automation of Digital Systems: Theory and Techniques, (Prentice-Hall, 1972), the first book on this subject.  Also mentioned many times was Diagnosis and Reliable Design of Digital Systems, (Computer Science Press, 1976), affectionately known as the “little yellow book.”

Most people in the audience had used to learn the basic material in this field.  McCluskey noted that after the publication of  Breuer's second test book, Digital System Testing and Testable Design, (W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, NY, 1990), the earlier book was renamed “The Old Testament” while the second was nicknamed “The New Testament.” 
"New Testament"

A second theme addressed by the speakers was Breuer's focus on what one speaker called "revolutionary rather than evolutionary ideas." Hayes noted how early papers predated many of the problems industry addresses today. One example was the paper on intermittent faults “Testing for intermittent faults in digital computers,” (IEEE Trans. on Computers, March 1973) that addressed many of the current issues related to soft errors.  Other groundbreaking work dealt with test generation in asynchronous circuits, addressing today's problem of hazards in test generation, and the effect-cause fault diagnosis methodology.

Reddy began his presentation by acknowledging that Breuer was the first to mention the existence of delay faults and address the related test problem (“The effects of races, delays, and delay faults on test generation,” IEEE Trans. on Computers, October 1974). He then presented a comprehensive account of the work he and his associates have subsequently done in the area of delay faults and testing.

Abramovici is a former student of Breuer, and co-author with Breuer and Arthur D. Friedman of "the New Testament."  He presented a slide show that included a number of pictures from Breuer's personal collection, one of many other former students paying tribute, including C.P. Ravikumar, who wrote an account of the event .who wrote an account of the event that appeared that appeared in VSI Vision, published by the VLSI Society of India.

Ravikumar' speech recognized Breuer's pioneering work in the areas of design automation and test, and he was one of many recalling Breuer's influence as a personal model, of humor, good judgment, and mathematical rigor

Sandeep Gupta, a close Viterbi School associate of Breuer over the past 20 years, related his collaboration with Breuer on testing for crosstalk-induced noise, work that is commonly referred to as the “Gold Standard” in this field, and also spoke about "how much I like arguing with Mel" on both technical and non-technical topics.  Sandip Kundu recollected how he had enjoyed a debate with Breuer so much that he decided to visit the University of Southern California to continue the argument.

T.M. Mak mentioned that Intel hired one of Breuer's students and gave him the task of looking at confidential data to see if Intelindeed had the problems related to crosstalk that Breuer was addressing in his research.  Once confirmation was made, Intel properly began funding this research and encouraged the SRC to do the same.  Mak remembered that he expressed doubts about Breuer's work on error-tolerance and the salvaging of defective chips.  But today, with companies making multi-core chips, this “less that perfect” methodology is or will soon be adopted, he said.

Since the Test Technology Technical Council sponsored the forum, it only focused on one half of Breuer's career.  But some brief comments from the audience noted Breuer work that may be the subject of another forum, a line of research that has greatly influence the CAD community, including papers such as (“Min-cut placement,” Journal  of Design Automation and Fault Tolerant Computing, October 1977), and his work with Neal R. Quinn (“A forced directed component placement procedure for printed circuit boards,” IEEE Trans. on Circuits and Systems, June 1979).

Finally, Breuer addressed the audience.  He disagreed with the audience regarding their contention that his most important contributions were his research and books. He dramatically took the cover off a table to reveal bound volumes of his PhD students' theses.

"This is the work of my second set of children, and this is what I am most proud of as a professor," he said, bringing the crowd to its feet. He went on to pay tribute to wife Sandy and son Jeff, along with his roommate from UC Berkeley, Dick Wilmer.

Professor Breuer received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a professor of both electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California Viterbi School of Engineering where he holds the Charles Lee Powell Chair and has served as the Chair of the Faculty.

In addition to his books, he has published over 200 technical papers and was formerly the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Design Automation and Fault Tolerant Computing, on the editorial board of the Journal of Electronic Testing, the co-editor
of the Journal of Digital Systems, and the Program Chairman of the Fifth International IFIP Conference on Computer Hardware Description Languages and Their Applications. He was co-author of a paper that received an honorable mention
award at the 1997 International Test Conference, and the co-author of the best paper at the 2000 Asian Test Symposium.

He is a Fellow of the IEEE and recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s 1993 Taylor L. Booth Education Award.